Journalism school eliminates entrance exam
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Program lowers requirements despite threat to accreditation
The Curriculum Committee for the UNLV Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies has voted to suspend the program’s entrance exam.
The school has traditionally required an entrance exam testing writing ability and basic technical competence based on skills gained in pre-journalism core classes.
“The exam has been eliminated for the next two or three years, not forever,” said Adam Sikula, a director at the urban affairs advising center, which advises students of the journalism school.
“We offered the entrance exam for the last time last spring, so summer is [the] first time we have not administered it,” Sikula said.
The goal of the former requirement was to admit only the best aspiring journalism and media studies students so the school could gain higher prestige and accreditation.
But the plan has proved to be a financial drain on the university.
“Over the last few years, we have had a population of about 300-400 students, all in the name of pursuing higher accreditation, to be held in the highest regard of prestigious programs across the country,” Sikula said.
But, he said, having a lower number of students renders a program financially ineffective.
“When we looked at the cost per program, and then per student, journalism and media studies was on the top 20 list of most expensive programs on campus,” Sikula said. “When you have less students, obviously it costs more to educate them.”
He explained that Nevada’s statewide education funding crisis is a big part of the reason the model has changed.
“You will see most prestigious universities doing that because they have the financial ability to do so,” Sikula said. “They can have 300-400 students and it won’t be a financial burden. We are state-funded and we cannot necessarily do that.”
The program’s possibilities for accreditation might be diminished as a result of the shift.
Gary Larson is the undergraduate coordinator for the JMS program and chair of its Curriculum Committee. He also was one of the writers of the entrance exam.
He explained that the JMS school was aiming for accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications — a designation that would place UNLV’s program among the nation’s elite.
Though changing admissions standards will affect the school’s ability to gain ACEJMC accreditation, Larson says graduates will still be equipped for successful careers.
“In 15 years of being a professional journalist, I have never seen anyone reject a student because they graduated from an unaccredited JMS school,” Larson said. “Because this is a performance craft, employers want to see your portfolio, your clips, your writing samples and your videos. If you have it all, and it is impressive, quite frankly, the employers do not care what school you came out of. If you have the talent and the drive, you will get a job. “
Sikula said that the decision to cease the pursuit of higher accreditation is indicative of UNLV’s recent philosophy change. Whereas the school used to look to the future and believe the sky is the limit, he said, the budget now dictates every move the university makes.
“For a lot of us who have been here a long time, we must adjust to a climate that no longer tells you yes and supports you every step of the way,” Sikula said. “This used to be the type of campus where, if you came up with a good idea, you could go ahead and move forward with it. That is no longer the case here.”
Larson said that he believes the low cost for graduating JMS students and the success that graduated students have enjoyed provide hope for the program.
“We have been efficient in graduating students in 4-5 years, boasting the second highest graduation rate at UNLV,” Larson said. “We are just opening our arms a little wider to more students.”
Larson explained that increased enrollment will not necessarily mean decreased quality.
“We certainly do not want to give the impression that we are trying to open the doors and tell everybody to come on in,” L;arson said, “but we do want to make the major more approachable for students.”
Now, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA in JOUR 100, 101, and 102 and have a 2.0 GPA overall to be admitted to the JMS program.
Before, a 3.0 cumulative GPA average was required.
Sikula is not concerned that that quality of JMS students will decrease.
“There is still a grade requirement, so the thought that there will be an influx of incompetent students does not hurt the program,” said Sikula. “You are not going to see students with a ‘D’ average in the upper level courses. We will still be able to weed out the bad students.”